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James P. Duffy & Vincent L. Ricci, Target Hitler: The Plots to Kill Adolf Hitler (Westport, Conn.: Praeger, 1992)

Most books about the Third Reich mention the von Stauffenberg plot (sometimes called the General's Plot) against Hitler, and a few allude to "other" plots, but Target Hitler attempts to provide a history of not only the General's Plot, but the other serious (and sometimes tragically comic) plots against Hitler. Contrary to some other writings on the subject, Duffy & Ricci assert that Rommel was not a conspirator in the Stauffenberg scheme, but simply one of the many officers who chose to remain silent about the plot, waiting for the risks to be taken by others.

There were plots discussed here that were completely new to me, such as the bomb that appears to have been planted with Himmler's active assistance -- though it is unclear whether this was an internal power struggle of Himmler to replace Hitler, or an attempt to produce a plot for propaganda purposes, for which it was well used.

There are tragicomic efforts here, such as Maurice Bavaud's. Bavaud was an anti-Communist Swiss seminary student who sought to assassinate Hitler for cozying up to the Communists -- and thought he was going to succeed using a .25 pocket pistol, which even Bavaud knew was only accurate enough with this gun to kill Hitler if he could get with 25 feet of his target! Unfortunately, Hitler walked down the wrong side of the street in Munich in commemoration of the Beer Hall Putsch.

Duffy & Ricci also demonstrate that, contrary to the view taken by some other historians, the General's Plot was not simply the result of the German officer corps attempting to save their own necks once the war was lost, but the last in a long series of efforts made before the war to remove Hitler from power, out of opposition to the immorality of National Socialist Party rule. Much of the opposition was founded on the belief that Hitler's actions in provoking wars, passing of the Nuremburg laws, and other such actions against the Jews, were contrary to Christianity. Especially among the military and diplomatic opposition, this Christian basis to opposition to Hitler created a serious problem, because of a profound reluctance to commit murder, even of someone such as Hitler. Eventually, as the nature of the brutality of the Nazi policies became impossible to miss, the major plotters, such as von Stauffenberg, overcame their reluctance. The plot to depose Hitler became a plot to assassinate.

After the war, many officers sought to find protection in the argument, "I was only following orders." Duffy & Ricci provide an example of the traditional German military view with a quote from General Beck's memorandum of July 16, 1938:

Vital decisions for the future of the nation are at stake. History will indict these commanders [who blindly follow Hitler's orders] of blood guilt if, in the light of their professional and political knowledge, they do not obey the dictates of their conscience. A soldier's duty to obey ends when his knowledge, his conscience, and his sense of responsibility forbid him to carry out a certain order.
There were many officers in the German military who, because they had sworn a personal oath of loyalty to Hitler in the early days of the National Socialist government of Germany, were reluctant to directly participate in the plot against Hitler -- but were ready to help as soon as Hitler was dead.

There were other factions as well, including labor leaders not already incarcerated, and various Social Democrats. While they and the aristocratic conservative elements that made up the plot were not able to completely agree on what the new Germany should be, they were able to reach agreement that Hitler had to be removed, one way or another.

The courage of many of the conspirators is astonishing. Duffy & Ricci recount a number of instances where high officers put plastic explosive charges in their pockets, started the fuses, then attempted to get close enough to Hitler to grab hold. Other generals attempted to enter Hitler's presence while armed, in the hopes of getting at least one lethal wound inflicted on Hitler before being killed themselves.

Hitler's luck is also astonishing. Plot after plot were foiled by Hitler's habit of changing plans and schedules at the last moment. The General's Plot, however, failed because many elements in the plot failed to take action immediately after the bomb went off -- and in failing to take action, provided enough time for Hitler loyalists to mobilize.

One annoying error is that throughout the book the military intelligence organization, which was a center of the conspiracy against Hitler, even going so far as to give military intelligence ID cards to Berlin Jews, to enable them to leave the country safely posing as military intelligence officers, is consistently misspelled as "Abwer" instead of "Abwehr." Since the authors have relied heavily on memoirs of survivors of the plots, this error is all the more mystifying.

The book concludes with a description of what finally happened to the major participants in the General's Plot. The courage of these people, confronting the Nazi People's Court, destroyed whatever propaganda value these trials might have had. As Field Marshal Erwin von Witzleben told Judge Freisler, "You can hand us over to the executioner, but in three months' time this outraged and suffering people will call you to account and drag you alive through the mud of the streets."

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